What is Business Intelligence for Shipping / Distribution Organisations? Business Intelligence can be defined as the use of systems including tools such as data warehouses, dashboards, reporting and cloud systems for the purpose of capturing, measuring, and analyzing the data outputs of your business systems in order to improve your operations.
From a freight perspective, that can mean capturing data from systems such as your:
- Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Warehouse Management and eCommerce systems
- Your Transport or Freight Management systems and / or your carriers’ systems
To capture data within the systems that can include:
- SKUs, sales orders, and related consignment / shipping orders
- Customer details: order volumes; costs
- Customer / Receiver address details
- Freight Costs; per carrier, warehouse site / branch, State, Customer Group, Cost Centre
- Freight Margin & Freight Recovery costs
- Freight type i.e. packaging – pallet, skid, envelope, parcel, etc.
- Volume details i.e. Number of consignments / number of items per consignment per day or week
- Carriers and Services used
- Surcharges and Fees
Often, we find that shippers are frustrated at the first step with business intelligence; and that is capturing their data, or ownership of their data. As many shippers use online aggregators, or carriers’ direct systems, they do not capture their own freight activity. They are dependent on the carrier to send them reports to show them what they have shipped for the month, and carriers, (and even some 4th party logistics providers), will provide those reports at various levels of capability.
In other words, they report for a short timeframe and then stop, or they are sporadic; you have to prompt them, and the reports themselves can be insufficient, often without the capability for you to truly assess what is being revealed in the report or confirm its accuracy.
Having a system that enables you to centrally capture your freight data, is an important step to gaining visibility on the data that all of your shipping activity produces. Data warehousing, or systems such as MS Power BI, can capture all your data for full control.
For example, the sales order information comes from the ERP system, and the freight cost information comes from the FMS system.
The Data Warehouse, or Power BI system, is a repository to house that data so that complex queries can be used to assist with business decisions.
These types of systems are the next level of capability for organisations over traditional Database Reporting as the real time and drilldown accessibility of the data allows for more thorough investigation of what is occurring (or not occurring) in your business and therefore enables a quick pivot when things change – and something is always changing.
End users, such as key staff, i.e. Logistics Mangers, Operations Managers, do not access the data via the warehouse platform, rather that data is tapped into via another tool; typically via Online Analytical Processing (OLAP), or a cloud-based Business Intelligence Dashboard.
Business Intelligence Dashboard
What is Business Intelligence Dashboard? The latest and most effective way to manage this data is via a Dashboard. A Business Intelligence Dashboard is a way of displaying the data captured that is user-friendly, providing an at-a-glance method of visualizing large amounts of data that is often merged across various systems.
Usually this is supplied via charts and tables that summarise the data, such as:
- Pie charts; great for composition in percentages
- Stacked bar charts; for both comparison and composition
- Line Charts; often used for trending data
Tables usually can be sorted via their different categories or KPIs depending upon what you want to focus on. They may include massive amounts of data that you can scroll through but will also provide you with a total summary that you can immediately view.
You can click on a table field in a column / category and, in an interactive Dashboard, you will be able to drill down on that chosen field and the charts will immediately alter to show you just the data for that particular field of interest.
Dashboards are interactive and real time, or near real time, with new data continually importing into the platform, as that data is created. As such, the addition of new data will see the dashboard change daily or weekly. Therefore, it is a good idea to logon, weekly, (or monthly, as preferred), and download the data to capture that week’s data so you have a ‘freezeframe’ hardcopy of what occurred that month, in other words, a report.
You can embed the report in PowerPoint presentations for team strategy meetings or, save to a relevant folder in your PC or organization server / cloud systems, and email off to others as per your reporting processes.
Algorithms / KPIs
What is Business Intelligence KPIs? How Business Intelligence KPIs can be represented in the Dashboard depends on the KPIs that you have chosen. You should carefully consider what is important for your company to capture; and how to structure your data.
KPIs for freight might include:
- Shipping From / To locations
- Carriers & Services; volume & comparisons
- Costs; per customer / receiver; total carrier charges & vs. con note volume & weight
- Comparison of different warehouse sites / branches & composite nationally
- Customer consignment types, volume, spend, averages on items / consignment weight, etc.
With regard to structure, it’s best to have a team member or consultant with business analytics skills, working with a subject matter expert (in the case of freight BI, a logistics expert), who can assist with the design of the dashboard, creating the right types of categories in your tables and the right charts and graphs as will best illuminate the key issues, and reflect your business goals. So, Dashboard design is key to getting the most out of your data analytics.
Analysis of the data is of course shaped by:
- the data you’ve chosen to collect i.e. the source systems, or datasets;
- the KPIs you’ve prioritised;
- the way that you’ve chosen to represent the KPIs – charts, graphs; tables, etc.,
- the filters you select when you interact with the data in the Dashboard i.e. trending data e.g. Quarter 4: Oct-Dec
- how you sort tables and drilldown in fields
- the reports you save for reflection and dissemination and discussion with key stakeholders
- and, ultimately, how frequently you logon to the Dashboard to monitor what is going on
The training provided for using your Business Intelligence system, the skills garnered, both in Analysis & Reporting, and the subject matter being analysed, (in this case freight), will have the greatest bearing on what you get out of the system; what you get out of your analytical activities.
However, having said that, if you’ve set yourself up with a good Dashboard design, then the end user requires only a small level of training as with the modern Dashboard as they are very intuitive and allow for a semantic level of understanding, rather than requiring the knowledge of a Data Scientist and IT coding skills.
Business Intelligence End Users
What is Business Intelligence for End Users? Business Intelligence systems can be used by a broad spectrum of users across different departments: Finance, Logistics, Operations, Customer Service & Sales, for example.
Different users will have different priorities in what information is of utmost importance to them, or best supports their daily and longer-term goals.
It is beneficial to have a SME – Subject Matter Expert – within your team, or indeed as an outsourced service provider; one who has both the technological and industry-relevant expertise to spearhead efforts by the team / organization to ensure that all potential insights that can be gleaned from the captured data are being analysed for the purpose of alerting the company to any issues and for optimizing the business with a continuous improvement methodology.
Business Intelligence has come a long way in recent years, in terms of capturing and reporting on all aspects of a business’s work activity to ensure that the business is running smoothly, leanly, and is reflecting the business’s goals and strategies. Accessibility for key stakeholders is better than ever before. Companies that implement a business intelligence process that can comfortably capture the high volumes that a company creates, in near or real time, that can be scrutinised for actionable insights, will make the most of the capabilities that this digital revolution is providing; ensuring their longevity.
We hope that we have covered the important aspects of the question: What is Business Intelligence for you in this article. If you want to learn more about how to implement Business Intelligence Systems for your distribution requirements, we would be happy to advise you; please contact us to discuss.